[Given by Chris Juchau in the Highland South Stake Conference, October 2017]
As we all know, it doesn’t make sense to try to reduce the gospel or gospel living or righteousness to a checklist. I could, for example, say my prayers morning and night, read a couple of chapters in the Book of Mormon every day, attend the temple each week or two, refrain from watching football on Sundays, lead my family in daily scripture reading and prayer and in Home Evening every Monday—all good and desirable things—and yet still lack something very desirable and ultimately essential.
The goal is not just to check all the boxes. The goal is to become. To be changed. To experience and nurture a “mighty change” in our hearts. The apostle Paul wrote of us becoming “new creatures.” So did Alma the Younger. King Benjamin spoke of a change within us so profound that we would “have no more disposition to evil, but to do good continually.” Paul also taught that “to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace.” The change that each of us should strive to experience is one that should be deep inside us, affecting our hearts and minds and our very natures.
Here, though, is perhaps a little irony. While the goal is in what we become rather than in just checking all the boxes, doing good reflects what we have become and it is in the very doing that we not only become, but that we also discover the truthfulness of the Gospel.
Jesus taught, “If any man will do his will, he shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”
President Vernon recently told me a story of interviewing a woman in the stake for a temple recommend. He did not share with me her name and I don’t know who she is, but her story illustrates a point. President Vernon came to the third question in the interview and asked this sister if she had a testimony of the restoration of the gospel. She hesitated before saying “yes” and then hastened to make what she referred to as an “apology.” She said that she had not studied and read things to the depths that others had. She didn’t feel that she could quote chapter and verse on everything related to the restoration, but, she said, “I only know that when I live according to the teachings of the restored gospel, I feel good, I feel happier and better off. And that is largely what I base my testimony on.”
What on earth have we done that would leave this dear woman feeling like she needed to apologize for doing and experiencing exactly what the Savior said she would? She described it perfectly. Paraphrasing, “If any woman will do his will, she shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God.”
Knowing is in the doing and in recognizing the resulting whisperings of the Holy Ghost.
Truth, testimonies, and gospel knowledge often don’t come from spectacular spiritual events. More often, the voice of the Spirit is still and small and works quietly within us.
Becoming, like knowing, is also in the doing. Let me provide a few illustrations.
Every year, our stake, on average, sends out about 65 full-time missionaries. I meet with them the Sunday before they leave for an MTC somewhere in the world. They are wonderful! Many come to that interview wearing new missionary clothing, including a pair of shoes that looks like it’s being worn for the first time. Eye contact may or may not be very steady. Each is a different combination of excitement and nervousness, perhaps even fear—for the unknown things ahead and the moments that will challenge them. Most have graduated from seminary, been active in Church, read their scriptures, and learned well from excellent parents. Most are what I might describe as thriving youth, but inexperienced youth nevertheless.
Fast-forward 18 months or two years. That same young man or young woman returns to the same office, this time to be released as a full-time missionary. Shoes often look very worn. Pants may have a hem coming apart or even a hole in them. Once-white shirts may be a little off-white now. Faces and bodies may even look a little tired, but those faces are different than when they left! There is a lot of eye contact. There is something new and changed behind those eyes that are full of confidence—and sometimes full of tears that are both joyful and sorrowful for the end of a wonderful season.
I frequently ask these young men and young women what has changed—what is different about them from the last time I saw them. They often answer with things like, “God gave me the gift of seeing people as He sees them.” Or, “Everything has changed. I am completely different.” Or, “I know God loves me. I really know it.” Or, “I thought I had a testimony when I left, but now I really know.” Or “I have learned that the Atonement is real and applies to everyone.”
One might even call it a mighty change. How did it happen? It happened because they said, as Nephi, “I will go and do.” And they went and did. And in the doing, they experienced God; they experienced the Holy Ghost; and they were changed from the inside out.
For us older people, this is not merely an opportunity long gone. Just two nights ago, Joe and Barbara Barry returned from their full-time mission in Palmyra, where they served in the temple and in other important ways. Like younger missionaries, Joe and Barbara were wonderful before they left, they just weren’t quite as young. That didn’t mean, though, that they didn’t return home with similarly glowing and smiling faces, full of goodness that resulted from what they had done, what they felt, and what they had further become. They blessed many lives in Palmyra. They blessed the lives of their adult children here in Utah. And, inescapably, their own lives were blessed and changed forever.
In the middle of preparing this talk, and as if on a heavenly cue, I received an email from President Frandsen, currently president of the San Francisco Oakland mission and a member of our stake. Here is the full text of what he wrote:
“Good Morning President: I thought I would send you an update I received from Elder and Sister Lay. What a difference they are making in this mission and the two Wards and Stakes in which they are serving! President Frandsen.” Below that was an email to him from David and Sharon Lay of the 22nd Ward. It is too lengthy to share in its entirety, but here are a few lines…
- The Bishopric called us to head up the Christmas party for the ward and we are working with a committee.
- We have helped establish a greeter program at the chapel doors for Sacrament Meeting to welcome the members and visitors.
- Sharon is accompanying the RS president with some visits to special sisters and shut-ins and I am attending the Elders Quorum and accompanying the President on visits.
- We are working with the Stake Family History committee to generate a Family History Fair to culminate before the temple closes in March.
- The Bishop has been very forthcoming in assigning a list of about eight members that he would like us to focus on right away. With only a couple of exceptions, we have been in their homes and have become friends.
- We have been asked to teach a temple preparation class in Sunday School for eight weeks to help prepare some to return to the temple, also before it closes in March.
- We have participated in several lessons with the Elders where they needed a third participant as well as helping to conduct a family home evening with a new family and a new-member lesson with a recently baptized member.
- We are now registered with the Reading Partners program to do remedial reading instruction at the local elementary school near our apartment. We go for an hour each Tuesday and Thursday and tutor students who are below grade level in reading. It is very rewarding and we wear our name badges.
Brother Lay ends his report to President Frandsen with these words: “We are grateful to be here and feel that we are where the Lord wants us. Thank you for the latitude to follow the spirit where it is leading us. We feel His hand every day in our affairs.”
Brothers and Sisters, knowing and becoming are in the doing.
Full-time missions are only one example of doing leading to becoming. We become through temple and family history work. We become through home and visiting teaching and through a host of opportunities for kindness and loving our neighbors of all kinds. We become by striving to develop Christlike attributes within ourselves.
May I invite you to ever strive for greater personal conversion. To live the gospel and experience that “mighty change” —which may not come in a single moment, but rather, “line by line,” “here a little and there a little.” That the Lord will help us become new creatures and realize all the joy and happiness offered through the gospel of Jesus Christ is my testimony in the name of Jesus Christ, amen.